From Punk Bands to Pizza Ovens
Once a member of a punk band called Sewer Rat, Ben Roberts now cooks up extraordinarily good pizzas at pseudo-legal pop-up events around Sacramento, calling the enterprise Pizza Supreme Being.
Photos by Karlos Rene Ayala.
I have known Ben Roberts since I was a wee child. We grew up in the same small town in Northern California and went to school together. In high school, he was in a weird punk band called Sewer Rat, and I liked watching weird punk bands. As we got older, we drifted in and out of the same circles, but we would regularly run into each other at punk shows in sweltering VFW halls and filthy basements.
When I finally moved out of my family home at the ripe age of 20, I needed a roommate, so I asked Ben if he wanted to move to Sacramento with me. He did, and we lived together for five years. During that time, Ben got a job at a few restaurants around Sacramento, despite having no culinary training—and, from what I could tell, no real interest in cooking or food. When we would cook together at home, we would heat up a can of chili and dump it onto a pile of French fries. That's as advanced as we ever got.
Eventually, Ben decided to be a grown-up and move out of the small, moldy apartment that we shared and into a nice, clean apartment with the love of his life. I didn't blame him. He also moved from restaurant job to restaurant job until he had worked his way up to a sous chef position at a restaurant that I never went to because it was kind of far away and probably expensive.
For the past couple of years, he's been working at one of Sacramento's best restaurants and recently, he had a woodfired oven built so he could pursue his true food passion: pizza. Ben now spends much of his free time cooking extraordinarily good, simple pizzas at pseudo-legal pop-up events and dinners around town. He calls the whole thing Pizza Supreme Being.
Even though I eat his tasty pizza whenever I can and have known the dude for almost my entire life, I figured it'd be a good idea to ask him about how he went from being a scrappy punker to a guy who makes arguably the best pizza in Sacramento.
MUNCHIES: Hi, Ben. Have you been secretly good at cooking forever? What gives? Why didn't you cook us rad food when we lived together? Ben Roberts: No, I haven't been a good cook forever. Everyone sucks when they first start out. I really didn't even know if I wanted to cook. All I knew was that I was in a lot of debt at the time and needed to work hard in order to get out of that hole. I just kind of fell into it. Do you remember when I stopped being vegetarian and I ate that Reuben sandwich?
I do remember that. That was great. That was the night I decided to devote my career to cooking. I probably didn't cook for you when we lived together because I wasted all my spending money on records, cookbooks, and candy bars.
I can't believe a Reuben changed your life so drastically. Why aren't you trying to make the perfect sandwich? Why pizza? I mean, pizza is incredible, but there are so many people making it. What made you want to go into such a crowded part of the food world? You know when you have an image or sound or whatever in your head and you try to bring it to life, but it's not what you wanted? I struggle with that in everything I do. Making pizza is the first thing I did where that idea came out exactly how I imagined. I just want to cook what makes me happy. And you're right: There is a huge amount of pizza everywhere. I just need to do my best to stand out.
Why is your pizza so crazy good? Local honey and Maldon sea salt.
The oven you had made is so cool. Does it have a name? If not, can I name it? My wife and I decided to name the oven Olive. It was my great-grandma's name. Apparently, Olive emigrated to America from England in a wine crate of some kind. She never quit anything. It gives me the drive to keep going. I just want to be like her.
Working in restaurants usually doesn't pay super-well. I mean, I remember when we would take garbage bags full of bagels out of dumpsters so we would have food for a few days. How in the world did you manage to get enough money to build your own traveling brick oven and start this whole thing? I had an idea to gain a following on social media first and then drop that I was starting a pizza business later. My brother, Chad, and I started out Photoshopping punk and hardcore record covers to make them include pizza, and we'd post two a day on Instagram. It just blew up, so I printed shirts and sold them online. When I ran out of those, I used the money for a down payment and received an "equipment loan" from the bank. Banks won't give you a business loan unless you've had a business bank account for two years already, so that was out of the question. That being said, the small, worldwide following and support from the people who liked the stuff my brother and I made and bought my shirts definitely helped me appear established and more responsible than I was, so the bank approved my loan.
What are some of your favorite records that have come out in the past year? Ceremony, The L-Shaped Man. Turnstile, Nonstop Feeling. Torche, Restarter. Chelsea Wolfe, Abyss. I'm sure I missed some.
What's next? Expand your menu? Delivery? Mass-marketing your brand of frozen pizzas? Restaurant? Now that I quit my real job, the plan is to do more pop-ups and catering until I get enough money in the bank to open a restaurant of my own. I will be adding a new pie to the menu soon. I would totally develop a frozen pie line. I grew up on frozen pizza, so I don't hate.
Whoa. I didn't know that you quit your fancy restaurant job and you're now slinging pies for reals. That's great. What are you doing later? Probably chopping wood at my mother in law's house or mailing out merch.
Thanks for speaking with me.
Pizza Supreme Being's pizza-themed album covers, delicious pizzas, and neat merch can be found on its Instagram account.